Retail experience paramount to brand relationship
I love this quote – it demonstrates how quickly things can dramatically change:
“In twenty minutes you can sink a battleship, down three or four planes, hold a double execution. You can die, get married, get fired and find a new job, have a tooth pulled, have your tonsils out. In twenty minutes you can even get up in the morning. You can get a glass of water at a night club – maybe.” Raymond Chandler, Farewell My Lovely
You can destroy ten years of retail equity and loyalty in five minutes. Failed policies and poor training can set in motion what we affectionately refer to as the spiraling vortex of doom.
Retail is experiencing one of the biggest relevance squeezes in history as more demanding consumers grow less tolerant of missteps and violations of the customer-comes-first code. Too many options exist now and choices abound, especially online, waiting in the wings to rescue consumers from bad retail behaviors. Here’s a poster child example…
Jeans. I wear them everyday, and for the shift to casual attire in business I thank the gods of cultural change. So jeans are a thing for me – an essential wardrobe component and thus a sartorial priority. I care about my jeans.
I have been a decade-long exclusive and devoted customer of the Lucky brand of jeans. I like the fit, the price, the color options – and their retail store is just a few minutes from my home – so convenient. For these attributes I have rewarded Lucky with my jean purchases for more than 10 years.
I recently got a pair of Lucky jeans as a gift from my wife, who knows my preferences for the brand. But the size wasn’t right and the fit choice not my favorite. So I went back to the store to exchange for another style. The clerk saw me walk in with my pair of jeans in hand and the scowl on her face suggested she might not be pleased to see me.
I explained my need and she asked for a sales receipt. I said I didn’t have one as it was a gift. But all the assorted tags and stickers were still affixed including price tag thus it was clearly a brand new, never worn pair. I further explained that I just wanted to exchange for another style and would be happy to pay any price difference as needed. She said she couldn’t help me because no jeans of the size I wanted existed in the store.
Now please know I’m not a doormat in these situations, and made it clear I would like to find a solution. So the manager is enlisted – he tells me the store location is closing, that remaining inventory is to be sold off and thus why my size isn’t and won’t be available. I ask for a credit I can use for an online purchase.
He says he can only give me $12 (they cost $100) for the jeans because that’s the policy when closing out store inventory. The discussion goes on as I attempt to talk them into finding a creative way to make me, their decade long faithful customer, happy. Nothing doing. I said: so you’re telling me I’m screwed? Manager: pretty much. I left with my wrong jeans in hand. It was policy he said that dictated the intransigence.
Most of the time we don’t consider the where’s and why’s of our loyal behavior other than the ability to execute a pleasing purchase. Within five short minutes the friction filled in-store experience abruptly ended 10 years of brand preference and loyalty. I wondered how many other customers had been ‘touched’ by this unlucky brand of policy punishment.
If customers are merely walking wallets and the relationship is purely transactional then the future will belong to e-tailing where algorithms remove the human issues. If retail is to be successful, customer relationships must be looked upon with the greatest respect and cherished completely end-to-end in operations and the care and feeding of customer experience.
In my case, the ‘surprise and delight’ of previous retail experiences at Lucky turned to ‘frustration and consternation.’ Good luck, Lucky…
The recipe for improvement here begins with drinking at the cultural well of customer devotion. When the company ethos and mission are embedded in building lasting relationships with those that walk in the door, the behaviors at point of sale will go more smoothly through the ups and downs of business change.
Training can’t be underestimated or underplayed as a vital link in cultivating the right customer experience. Well-trained employees present the face of the brand and influence the perception of value and being valued. Finally, policies can help or ultimately destroy brand reputations. Policies that are not customer-friendly virtually guarantee outcomes of unhappiness and separation.
Jeans are not purchased; happiness is. And unless this concept of where value truly exists takes root fully inside retail organizations, it will be harder to keep the brick and mortar system healthy in the face of online convenience and frictionless digital purchase.
Brand franchises are built on the feelings people have while in the presence of a brand or retail banner – so this key factor in the relationship should be respected.
Looking for more food for thought? Subscribe to our blog.
Bob Wheatley is the CEO of Chicago-based Emergent, the healthy living agency. Emergent provides integrated brand strategy, communications and insight solutions to national food, beverage, home and lifestyle companies. Emergent’s unique and proprietary transformation and growth focus helps organizations navigate, engage and leverage consumers’ desire for higher quality, healthier product or service experiences that mirror their desire for higher quality lifestyles. For more information, contact Bob@Emergent-Comm.com and follow on Twitter @BobWheatley.